Tossed out: Cox on verge of 'embarrassing' record
By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
June 1, 2007
ATLANTA (AP) -- With Bobby Cox, it usually starts this way: Sitting in an obscured corner of the dugout, he'll remove his cap with one hand, rub the other through his hair and begin grumbling in a not-so-subtle tone that's sure to catch the umpire's attention. Before long, Cox is bolting from the dugout on two surgically replaced knees, waddling along like a duck trying to make it across a busy highway. It might come across as amusing -- until he unleashes a rapid-fire stream of obscenities with such venom that one might think these men in blue had just done something horrible to his family.
Of course, their offense is usually nothing more than barking strike when Cox thought it was a ball, or calling a runner out when he saw it the other way. No matter. He'll stomp around angrily, his head twisting this way and that with impertinent disgust, his arms flying wildly for emphasis, a 66-year-old man resembling a petulant child who's just been told he can't go outside to play. And then it's done. The offended umpire hears the magic word -- sorry, it's never fit for print -- and whirls his right arm in a half-circle. Cox knows the drill. He goes back where he came from, muttering all the way, and keeps right on going.
He'll watch the rest of the game from the clubhouse. Mr. Ejection has been tossed out again.
"It's kind of embarrassing," the Atlanta Braves manager said during a reflective moment. Cox entered the weekend just one ejection shy of John McGraw's dubious mark, a badge of belligerence that doesn't show up in any official record books but was diligently compiled by the Society for American Baseball Research. SABR unearthed 131 ejections for "Little Napoleon" during his Hall of Fame career, though 14 of those came when he was a player. Cox already has more ejections than any other manager, leaving him just a couple of angry tirades away from passing McGraw as the overall MVB -- Most Vociferous Bickerer.
Although Cox seems a bit put off by all the attention, it hasn't slowed his penchant for getting tossed. Just last weekend, he was kicked out of back-to-back games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Looks like he'll go down kicking (the dirt) and screaming (at the umps). "Bobby doesn't care what anyone thinks of him," longtime Braves pitcher John Smoltz said. "He's going out there to fight for the cause."
Actually, the very people who should demand Cox sign up for anger-management classes come across as his biggest fans. The umps say all those ejections are nothing personal -- they're trying to do their jobs, he's trying to do his. When Cox steps over the line, he gets the heave-ho. Then all is forgiven.
"The umpires have the utmost respect for Bobby Cox," said Richie Garcia, a longtime arbiter who now works as a major league supervisor. "The reason for that is he doesn't carry things over. What happens one night isn't carried over to the next." That's because Cox considers the men in blue "a part of us," not some mortal enemy. "If I have an argument with an umpire today, tomorrow it's forgotten," said Cox, the only manager -- or player, for that matter -- to get tossed from two World Series games. "Hopefully, it's both ways." Since moving into a supervisory role in 2002, Garcia has often chatted amiably with Cox before games.
"He'll have nothing but good things to say about the umpires," Garcia said with a chuckle. "Then, two innings later, he's getting ejected. It's just his passion for the game and his players. He really loves his players." Another former-umpire-turned-supervisor, Jim McKean, has known Cox since he was a Triple-A manager in the 1970s. "That's when he was at the top of his game," McKean said. "He was a lot younger, more energetic. He had two good knees. He was a little quicker, a little faster. He could get out of that dugout in a hurry."
Still, after 26 seasons as a major league manager, Cox is just as feisty. He's already been ejected five times this season, with more than a month until the All-Star break. Last weekend, Cox was tossed from a game against the Philadelphia Phillies for perhaps the most compelling of reasons: defending a player. Edgar Renteria began arguing a called third strike, and his manager quickly came out to join the cause. Home plate umpire Paul Emmel ejected both. The very next day, with the Braves trailing the Phillies 4-1, Cox stormed out of the dugout when first base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled a grounder over the bag was foul, taking away a possible hit from Willie Harris. Although TV replays appeared to show the ball landing on the foul side of the line, Cox insisted it was fair -- so strongly that Kulpa gave him the rest of the game off.
And that's just fine with Cox. "I have all the respect in the world for umpires, and I'd do anything if one of them got in trouble," Cox said. "I used to do a little umpiring when I was a kid in high school. I couldn't do anything similar to what they do, I assure you."
It's hard to imagine McGraw ever saying something like that. During three decades as manager of the New York Giants, he never backed down from a chance to intimidate an umpire, once calculating that his persistent needling might be worth an extra 50 runs a year. McGraw died in 1934, long before the era of television, so later managers such as Leo Durocher, Billy Martin and Earl Weaver got more attention for their epic showdowns with the men in blue. In fact, each of those guys seemed more calculated and contrived than Cox, who's never been one to turn around his cap so he can get right in umpire's face or kick a pile of dirt on home plate, knowing it will draw a big cheer from the crowd.
Cox might be a hothead, but at least he seems sincere. "Believe me, he's got no enemies in the umpire family," Garcia said. "You used to hear guys talk bad about Billy Martin or Earl Weaver or Dick Williams. But you don't hear umpires say anything bad about Bobby Cox. When you say Bobby Cox, they start laughing." Unlike McGraw, who ruled his team with an iron hand and wasn't above blaming his players for a loss, Cox is known for steadfastly defending his guys and letting the clubhouse largely run itself. (He's got two basic rules: be on time and no loud music.) But there are some similarities between McGraw and the man who soon will take away his record for ejections.
Both have spent most of their careers with one team; McGraw ran the Giants for 30 of his 33 seasons as a manager, while Cox has spent all but four years with the Braves. McGraw ranks second in career wins with 2,763, while Cox was fourth (2,201) before a weekend series against the Chicago Cubs. McGraw guided the Giants to 10 National League pennants, while Cox led the Braves to a record 14 straight division titles. Both had trouble winning the ultimate prize; McGraw went 3-7 in the World Series, while Cox's mark is 1-4. Many of Cox's ejections stem from his complaints about balls and strikes, a tendency that likely stemmed from having some of baseball's best pitchers for much of his career, including Cy Young winners Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
"He had great pitchers and very, very good control pitchers," Garcia said. "He just felt those guys are good enough that they should be getting those pitches." Although the Braves often seemed to benefit from liberal strike zones for Glavine and Maddux, it was never enough to assuage their manager. "I think I only caused one of them," Maddux, who now pitches for the Padres, quipped during a recent series in Atlanta. "I feel pretty good about that. I know Glavine got him a lot. Smoltzie got him a few times. At least I played a part in it anyway." So did the umpires, of course. Amazingly, they actually seem proud to have tossed Cox so many times. "If somebody is going to break that record, I'm glad it's him," Garcia said. "If it's possible to do it with dignity and class, he has."
Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.